Judge's Guide

This guide is intended to help put you into an appropriate frame of mind to judge middle- and high-school level science fair projects and to give you some information about judging criteria.

Please keep in mind that the overall goals of all our judges should be threefold:

  • to provide every student with an educational, motivating experience,
  • to provide constructive suggestions to help them improve their scientific/engineering skills, and
  • to choose the best projects for awards.

Our procedure involves two to three rounds of judging and is similar for both middle- and high school-divisions.  In the first round, each project
is comparatively ranked by at least three judges.  The best projects in each division are then moved into the second round. For large divisions, the second round is used to further narrow the pool of projects.  In the final round - be it second or third - the top awards are decided by head-to-head ranking of all projects by each judge.  Each judge will also provide written comments for a few students, as discussed in a separate judging guide.

The system is set up so that "close calls" in the first rounds usually don't matter.  So, judges should not agonize over exact rankings.  They should not try to set up a rigid scoring system.  Rather, they should spend the time and effort interacting with the young scientists.  Most students say that they enjoy talking to the judges, and that in many cases it is the high point of their experience at the Fair.

Keep in mind that we are judging the following:

  • The quality of the work done on a project by a student, and how well that student understands the project and the area in which he/she has been working. Only secondarily are we evaluating the physical display and the student's verbal presentation.
  • A project that involves laboratory, field, or theoretical work; not just library research or gadgeteering.
  • A middle- or high-school student's work; not that of a professional scientist.

Most students will have received some help from adults. This is perfectly allowable and encouraged.  However, when comparing a project that was done largely by the student to one where the student recieved extensive adult help, the judges should focus on what the students did themselves. Students are expected to openly acknowledge adults who gave them significant help and should be able to completely explain what was done for them. For example, if a sophisticated instrument was used by an adult on their behalf, the student should be able to describe how the instrument works and how the data was interpreted.


The following criteria, adapted from the International Science Fair, are to be used as general guidance; they offer some questions to keep in mind when evaluating projects. Judges should not attempt to perform a rigid scoring of projects; but are asked to rank them based on their opinion of the quality
of work and how well the students understand their projects and areas of study.

Scientific Thought/Engineering Goals (about 30 percent)

Scientific Thought:

  • Is the problem stated clearly and unambiguously?
  • Was there a procedural plan for obtaining a solution?
  • Are the variables clearly recognized and defined?
  • If controls were necessary, were they correctly used?
  • Are the limitations of the data recognized?
  • Does the student have an idea of what further research is indicated?

Engineering Goals:

  • Does the project have a clear objective?
  • Does this objective have relevance to the needs of the potential user?
  • Is the solution practical and workable?
  • Has the solution been tested to see if it really works?

Creative Ability (about 30 percent) Does the project show creative ability and originality in

  • the question asked?
  • the approach to solving the problem?
  • the analysis and interpretation of the data?
  • the construction or design or use of equipment?

A student should not be penalized for taking help from others; all professionals receive help to some degree in some way.  However, credit
for creative ability and originality should be in regard to what the student has contributed.

Thoroughness (about 15 percent)

  • Does the project carry out its purpose to completion?
  • Are the conclusions based on a single experiment, or on replication?
  • Is the student aware of other approaches or theories concerning the project?
  • Is the student familiar with some of the scientific literature in the field?

Skill (about 15 percent)

  • Does the student have the skills required to do all the work necessary to obtain the data which support the project? Laboratory skills? Computation skills? Observational skills? Design skills?
  • Where was the project done? At home, in school, or in a professional laboratory? What assistance was received from parents, teachers or scientists?
  • Where did the equipment come from? Was it built independently by the student? Was it obtained on loan? Was it part of a laboratory in which the student worked?

Clarity (about 10 percent)

  • How clearly is the student able to discuss the project? Is he/she able to explain its purpose, procedure and conclusions in a clear and concise manner?
  • Has the written material been expressed well by the student?
  • Are the important phases of the project presented in an orderly manner?
  • How well does the project display explain itself?

For more information contact the Judging Chairman.